Cai Guo-Qiang creates artwork from fire and gunpowder

NGV Cai Guo-Qiang, Making of Transcience II (PEONY) - photo by Tim CarrafaIn a explosive display, one of the world’s most dynamic contemporary artists currently working, Cai Guo-Qiang, created a gunpowder drawing Transience II (Peony) in Melbourne last week.

The 31 metre art work created from fire and gunpowder is the largest of three works to be presented as part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces that opens at NGV International on 24 May 2019.

Located in a Williamstown warehouse, Cai drew complex patterns in gunpowder, layered upon 11 sections of silk before igniting it. The designed explosion scorches the intricate patterns onto the silk canvas, depicting the blooming process of the peony flower in reference to ancient Chinese culture.

“I’ve used gunpowder in my art for the past 30 years,” said Cai Guo-Qiang. “What I like most about it is its spontaneity and unpredictability. Every situation is different. It’s an unkown which you will accomplish with the help of an invisible force.”

Inspired by ancient Chinese culture and its enduring philosophical traditions, Cai has created all new works including Transience II for the NGV’s world premiere exhibition, Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape presented in parallel with Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality.

The exhibition will also feature a sculpture of porcelain peonies as well as a monumental installation of 10,000 suspended porcelain birds. Spiraling over visitors’ heads, the birds create a three-dimensional impression of a calligraphic drawing of the sacred Mount Li – the site of the ancient tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang, and his warriors. Cai will also collaborate on the exhibition’s design, creating immersive environments for the presentation of both his work and the Terracotta Warriors.

“Cai Guo-Qiang is one of the most exciting contemporary artists working today,” said Tony Ellwood AM, Director NGV. “Cai’s practice draws parallels between ancient and contemporary Chinese culture, through the use of Chinese inventions like gunpowder, porcelain, silk and paper, exploring the notion that tradition and history can inform contemporary art.”

Presented in parallel, Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality is a large-scale presentation of the Qin Emperor’s Terracotta Warriors, which, discovered in 1974 in China’s Shaanxi province, are regarded as one of the greatest archaeological finds of the twentieth century and widely described as the eighth wonder of the world.

The exhibition will feature eight warrior figures and two life-size horses from the Imperial Army, as well as two half-size replica bronze chariots, each drawn by four horses.

Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality and Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape will be on display from 24 May 2019 – 13 October 2019 as part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces program. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Cai Guo-Qiang, the making of Transience II (Peony) – photo by Tim Carrafa